Cannone nel castello di Haut-Koenigsbourg


Various 16th-century artillery pieces, including culverin, falconet and mortar.

The word cannon comes from the Greek kanun, meaning a tube. One early surviving cannon was an octagonal tube with a round bore. It had a breech block hammered in to place during casting. Cuprum and latten, both forms of brass, were used to make guns. But soon it was clear that cast iron was the best material. At first cannons were either placed on a mount to point them upwards or tied to a wooden board in order to tip the weapon and aim it by placing wedges underneath. In the fifteenth century one finds trunnions (wheeled platforms) in use. Cannons were loaded either by a mobile chamber or thunder-box, or else at the breech. The chamber was filled with gunpowder and a heated touch applied to the hole in the tube or the touch-hole. The chamber was closed with a bung of soft wood to act as a wad between the charge and the shot. The bung would pop out like a cork, the idea being that the chamber itself should not explode. The mobile chamber was placed in the breech and clamped with an iron rod, then packed with tow. By the middle of the fifteenth century some very large cannons were being manufactured.

In France, the Bureau brothers devised the artillery camp, an entrenchment full of guns of all sizes. This proved itself at Castillon, in 1453, the battle which saw the expulsion of the English from Aquitaine. The dukes of Burgundy were also great exponents of gunpowder weapons, although it was only in the 1470s that Charles the Bold had a substantial force of ‘field guns’ .Against conventional armies they were useful, because the new wheeled guns could be moved around and placed in different positions. However, the Swiss often moved too quickly for the cannon to be effective. Charles also inherited a force of handgunners. That he should have bothered to maintain large numbers of these indicates their effectiveness. Late medieval armourers had responded to the challenge of ever more powerful crossbows and massed longbows by producing a better design, resulting in a revival of knightly cavalry on armoured horses. However, the fluted armours and hardened steel that cleverly directed arrows and quarrels away were scant protection against handgunners. Intermingled or operating in front of dismounted men-at-arms and halberdiers, they were useful for sniping at enemy leaders and bringing down the armoured front ranks of pike formations. This also explains why handgunners were included in the mercenaries hired to participate in the Wars of the Roses. Despite all these developments, cannon and handguns do not seem to have exercised a decisive influence on the outcome of field battles until the sixteenth century.

“Cannon” was later confined to mean a specific class of gun that fired heavy shot over relatively short distances. These second-generation weapons normally had cast barrels, rather than barrels assembled by the hoop-and-stave method used in crafting early bombards. By the 16th century basic cannon were relatively standardized. They could hurl 50-pound solid shot to an effective hitting range of 600 yards, and a maximum (though largely ineffective) throwing range of 3,500 yards. At sea, cannon remained inaccurate dueling pieces when used at long range. This fact midwifed the phrase “long shot,” in reference to the high risk of firing at a distance without real effect, which allowed one’s enemy to close before a cannon could be reloaded. Cannon proved to be adept ship-killers at close ranges. On land, they were powerful siege weapons, though unwieldy even when mounted, without much mobility, and hence of little use in battle. Firing 1,000 rounds from a battery of full cannon consumed 32,000 pounds of iron shot and 20,000 pounds of powder. This presented a massive logistics problem to any early modern army seeking to move its guns. Other large caliber guns classed as “cannon” (as opposed to long-barreled culverins or stubby mortar types) included: basilisk, cannon-royal, cannon-serpentine, demi-cannon, and quarto-cannon.


Silver Shields




Johnny Shumate illustrations

In Alexander’s army, the Argyraspides (“Silver Shields”) were its most effective and ferocious component. Under Eumenes they were invincible and enjoyed a legendary reputation. The unit was broken up and largely dispersed by Antigonus, but the name had its attractions. It was adopted by the shock troops of the Seleucid armies, who served as the royal infantry, recruited as the elite of the army. They will have been set on justifying the expectations inherent in the name. Regimental pride was (and is) a powerful motive force, and the Argyraspides will have ensured that their nomenclature was instantly familiar.

The term argyraspides (`silver shields’) first appears as an alternative title for the hypaspistai at the Battle of Gaugamela (331) in Diodorus 17.57.2 and Curtius 4.13.27. Justin 12.7.5 (cf. Curt. 8.5.4) tells us that before the Indian campaign Alexander had the men’s arms overlaid with silver and he called the army the argyraspides after their silver shields, so the change in regimental title came, in fact, later. At Opis in 324 we first of all have mention of hypaspistai (Arr. 7.8.3); then Alexander is mentioned as having created a taxis of Persian argyraspides (Arr. 7.11.3). These same Persians, 1,000 in number, are called hypaspistai by Diodorus (17.110.1). At this stage, then, it seems that the two terms were still used interchangeably for the same regiment.

After the death of Alexander the argyraspides, commanded by Antigenes and Teutamus (Plut., Eumenes 13.2) are given the strength of 3,000 (Diod. 18.58.1, 59.3). Antigenes is first mentioned as a commander of the hypaspistai after the promotions of Sittacene in 331. It is mentioned that at the battle fought in Gabiene in 317 most of the argyraspides were aged 70 (Diod. 19.41.2, Plut., Eumenes 16.4), which would make them born about 387, and so aged 43 when the army crossed over to Asia in 334. This confirms that we are dealing with the same unit that changed its regimental title.

In the battle in Paraetacenae which took place in 317/6 between Eumenes and Antigonus, Eumenes stationed the Macedonian argyraspides, more than 3,000 in number, next to `the men from the hypaspistai’, more than 3,000, the whole force being commanded by Antigenes and Teutamus (Diod. 19.28.1, 40.3). It is evident from this passage that a new and numerically equivalent force of hypaspistai has been set up, which was quite separate from the argyraspides. It has been suggested that the Greek should be understood to mean that they are the sons of the hypaspistai, and further that these can be identified with the hypaspistai mentioned earlier as being disastrously defeated in Egypt in 321 under the command of Perdiccas (Diod. 18.33.6, 34.2). It has also been suggested that they are Asian recruits.


The situation in the Seleucid kingdom is less well understood. Seleucus had ended up with the ‘elite cavalry regiments of Alexander’s army: two Iranian regiments, the agema and Nisaeans, together with the Companions, as well as the Argyraspides or `silver-shields’. These units retained their regimental identities down to the second century. The phalanx seems to have been recruited from a class of `Macedonian’ citizens. These are presumably descendants of Macedonian troops settled in colonies in Asia. It has been argued that the Argyraspides was a permanently embodied regiment through which the young men passed for training. They were then placed in a reserve which formed the main body of the phalanx in time of war.

The Seleucid army contained the famous Argyraspides inherited from the army of Alexander the Great. These were presumably troops armed with the larger type of shield. A Seleucid regiment of Chalcaspides also features in the Daphnae parade in 166. The text of Polybius describing the parade is defective, and the text has been restored by Kaibel to make reference to a further Seleucid regiment of Chrysaspides `Gold-shields’, but the supporting evidence for this is flimsy. The Pontic army also included a regiment of Chalcaspides, who are described as advancing into battle with sarissas and locked shields (Plut. Sull. 16.7).

Legionary Singularis of the Spartan cohort of Caracalla (216-217 AD).


A Spartan legionary, Marcus Aurelius Alexys, is member of a cohort recruited by the Emperor Caracalla.

The emperor Caracalla enrolled a cohort from Laconia and Sparta in c. AD 214, for his Parthian war. See Herodian 4.8.3. Alexys unit were employed against Parthian (or Persian – the gravestone actually refers to his death in a Persian War) heavy cavalry in the same way as later Roman clubmen fought cataphracts and clibanarii at Emesa or Singara.

Caracalla also raised a “Macedonian” phalanx. Perhaps the Spartans, were for show and symbolism more than effect. Caracalla becomes both Alexander and Leonidas by leading them. The Spartan clubs might have had no specific tactical function, but were to link them to the tradition of being descendants of Heracles.


Elite as in specially raised by the emperor and clearly favoured by him. The club may have been symbolic, but it remains possible that it was a clava intended for use against cataphract cavalry. Compare Zosimus 1.52-53 on the battle of Emesa (AD 272), where Palestinian clubmen are very effective against the heavily armoured Palmyrene cavalry.

Another inscription from Sparta has been restored to suggest that the lochos/cohort was 500-strong and made up of more well-to-do citizens who fought as heavy infantry (Herodian describes it as a phalanx).

But it has also been suggested that Alexys was of lower social status and fought with another Spartan contingent of light infantry. Clubmen necessarily fought in open order so they could nimbly side-step advancing horses and strike riders as they passed, cf. Libanius, Orations 59.110, on the battle of Singara, c. AD 343. Constantine also employed soldiers armed with clubs reinforced with iron knobs to combat Maxentius’ clibanarii at the battle of Turin in AD 312. It would not be surprising to find that Caracalla, who clearly had an interest in specialist fighters (e.g. his problematical Macedonian phalanx, lanciarii and possibly phalangarii and archers in legio II Parthica), had this new unit (or units) equipped and trained to counter Parthian heavy cavalry.

There are several more inscriptions from Sparta recording temporary units that fought in ‘Persian’ wars. At least two date to the Parthian war of Lucius Verus. One may refer to the awarding of dona militaria, indicating a fighting role. True, any Spartan unit would have great symbolism in an Eastern war, but there is no reason that it would be purely symbolic and detached from the fighting.

Earlier in the second century AD, Hadrian created the first Spartan senator, who went on to command a legion. It has been suggested that this was a move to rehabilitate the military tradition of the city. Note also that Spartan contingents fought for Pompey at Pharsalus, and for Octavian at Actium, where the warship of Eurycles attempted to capture Antony’s flagship.


Sparta was “burned off” militarily after Eapmeinondas reinstated the Messenians and made Skiritis independent in mid-4th century B. C.

All attempts of later Spartan king to increase the land and hence the warrior number through conquest failed.

Sparta fell to the Romans by the time of Nabis late (Hellenistic period)

Romans created later the KOINON ELEFTHEROLAKONON = commonwealth of free Laconians. Perhaps as a source to raise auxiliary troops.

Romans were recruiting Greeks in the Imperial armies and Spartans were no exception.

Wars of Ramesses II



Ramesses II was introduced early to the military careers of his family. His grandfather, RAMESSES I, and his great-grandfather, Seti, had been commanders in the field. Ramesses II accompanied his father in a Libyan campaign when he was a teenager. He also went to war in the Mediterranean and Palestine regions.

He became the coregent in the seventh year of the reign of Seti I, who reportedly said: “Crown Him as king that I may see his beauty while I live with him.” His throne name meant “Strong in Right Is RÉ.” He also conducted a Nubian campaign, accompanied by two of his own sons, at age 22.

In Egypt, he aided Seti I in vast restoration programs up and down the Nile. Together they built a new palace at PER-RAMESSES, the new capital founded by Ramesses I in the eastern Delta. Wells, QUARRIES, and mines were also reopened.

Inheriting the throne, Ramesses II completed his father’s buildings and began to restore the empire. He made promotions among his aides, refurbished temples and shrines, and campaigned on the borders of the land. He then began a war with the HITTITES that would last for decades. This war opened with the Battle of KADESH, a military campaign commemorated in the Poem of PENTAUR (or Pentauret) on the walls of KARNAK and in the SALLIER PAPYRUS III.

That particular campaign provided a temporary truce but then continued in a series of three phases. After pushing the Egyptian domain to Beirut, (modern Lebanon), Ramesses II met the enemy at Kadesh. Later he battled to recover Palestine, which had been encouraged to revolt. Lastly, Ramesses II conquered Hittite lands far from Egypt and deep inside the enemy’s empire, bringing the Hittites to the treaty table.

Egyptian Army

With the exception of cavalry, the Egyptians developed every kind of military arm known at the time. The bulk of their forces were infantry, carrying shields and armed with lances or bows. Light infantry carried slings or javelins. For sidearms, the infantry usually carried short, double-edged swords. However, some pictures show them with a khopesh, which has a wide curved blade vaguely resembling a meat cleaver. Their shields were curved on top and straight or slightly curved along the sides, wooden and covered with leather. A shield was roughly about half the height of a man. Armor was unknown for the common soldier, his protection being little more than a quilted tunic and cap. The higher ranks are depicted in Egyptian artwork as wearing links of metal fastened loosely to permit freedom of movement. The king is usually depicted wearing a metal helmet and often carried a battle-axe or a mace. More than any other weapon, however, the Egyptians depended on the bow. The one they employed was five to six feet long with arrows up to 30 inches long.

The glory of the Egyptian army was the chariot, the weapon they had adopted from the Hyksos. Tomb paintings almost always show the pharaoh in a chariot, usually alone with the reins tied about his midriff as he defeats his enemies. This is probably artistic license, as the two-wheeled vehicles they drove were designed to carry two men, a driver and an archer, and are usually shown with attached quivers of arrows and short spears. The horses were not only decorated with headdresses, but covered at their joints with metal ornaments doubling as protection. The most famous story concerning the use of chariots in Egypt is that of the Exodus, wherein the whole of Pharaoh’s force of 600 chariots was employed in chasing the Hebrews. Although the Book of Exodus mentions cavalry, contemporary Egyptian artwork almost never shows men on horseback, and those who are depicted are usually foreigners.

The army of the New Kingdom was a thoroughly professional force, although conscripts were used: One man in 10 was liable for military service. Egyptian units were given names of gods for their titles (for example, Anubis, Phre, Thoth, etc.), which probably reflected the local divinity where the unit was raised. The divisions usually numbered 5,000, subdivided into 250-man companies and 50-man platoons. The artwork of ancient Egypt depicts the soldiers marching in order, but the battles seem to have no structure, just a melee. It is therefore difficult to know what military doctrines may have been developed in Egypt. However, as the point to the artwork was to glorify the pharaoh, the actions of the regular soldiers would not have mattered. In the depictions of attacks on fortifications, no reference exists for any sort of siege engines, like catapults or battering rams. In the pictures only arrows and extremely long pikes are being used in order to clear the walls of defenders, and scaling ladders are then employed. Art work at Abu Simbel shows how the Egyptians set up camp when on campaign. They did not dig entrenchments, but surrounded the camp with a palisade made of the soldier’s shields. The pharaoh’s tent is in the center of the camp, surrounded by those of his officers. Separate sections hold the horses, the chariots, the mules, and the pack gear. A hospital section is depicted, as well as another area of camp for drill and punishment. Outside the camp, charioteers and infantry are shown exercising. In the center of the camp is a lion, although whether this is literal or the symbol of the pharaoh is disputed.

Once liberated from the Hyksos, the Egyptians apparently understood that the more distant the frontier they could de fend, the safer would be the homeland. Thus, Egyptian campaigns began up the east coast of the Mediterranean toward modern Syria. Inscriptions of the time praise war as a high calling, whereas in previous days the main accomplishment of warfare was looting and the acquisition of wealth. (That, of course, remained a goal, and the pillage and tribute the Egyptians gathered financed the impressive buildings for which they are justly famous.) The problem they faced was that, unlike the nomads and bandits they had fought in earlier times, they now had to fight trained soldiers of other kings. The Egyptians apparently learned the art of war fairly quickly, however, for the contemporary inscriptions describe the joy the pharaoh felt when he got to go to war. “For the good god exults when he begins the fight, he is joyful when he has to cross the frontier, and is content when he sees blood. He cuts off the heads of his enemies, and an hour of fighting gives him more delight than a day of pleasure” (Erman, 1971).

The Egyptian military maintained a strong presence in the Palestine/Syria region for centuries, sometimes farther away and sometimes closer, depending on the nature of their opponents. They also expanded their borders southward at the expense of the Nubians.


Battle of Kadesh

A famous confrontation between RAMESSES II (r. 1290-1224 B. C. E.) and MUWATALLIS of the HITTITES, taking place c. 1285 B. C. E. on the Orontes River in modern Syria, the battle was recounted in 10 inscriptions, including a poetic form, bulletins, and reliefs on temple walls. Ramesses II marched out of Egypt on the ninth day of the second month of summer, stopping at Tjel, an Egyptian outpost. He had the Regiment of Amun, as well as three other major units with him, and the Sherden infantry, composing a force of 20,000 men. Reaching Ramesses-Meryamen, an Egyptian fortress in the Valley of the Cedars in modern Lebanon, Ramesses II saw no sign of the Hittites. Tricked by two “Shoshu,” Hittite spies posing as local inhabitants, Ramesses II stretched his forces 30 miles into the enemy territory, divided his forces, and then made camp. When Muwatallis began a series of raids and ambushes, Ramesses II beat the “Shoshu” and received confirmation of the Hittite trap and his peril.

The Hittites reportedly had 3,500 chariots, manned by three men each, and an infantry of 18,000 to 19,000 with auxiliary units and escorts totaling 47,500. Ramesses II, becoming alarmed, sent for the Regiment of Ptah and scolded his officers for their laxity in assessing the situation. While this was happening, however, the Hittites were cutting their way through the Regiment of Ré, sealing the trap. Hundreds of Egyptians began to arrive at Ramesses II’s camp in headlong flight. The Hittite cavalry was close behind, followed by some 2,500 chariots. The Regiment of Amun was almost overwhelmed by the panicking soldiers who had suffered the first losses in the battle. The unit therefore raced northward in the same disorder.

Undaunted, Ramesses II brought calm and purpose to his small units and began to slice his way through the enemy in order to reach his southern forces. With only his household troops, a few officers, and followers, and with the rabble of the defeated units standing by, he mounted his chariot and discovered the extent of the forces against him. His chariot was drawn by his favorite horses, “Victory of Thebes” and “Mut Is Content,” and he charged the east wing of the assembled force with such ferocity that they gave way, allowing the Egyptians to escape the net that Muwatallis had cast for them. The Hittite king watched the cream of his command fall before Ramesses II, including his own brother. The Hittites and their allies were being driven into the river, where they drowned.

Within the abandoned Egyptian camp, the enemy soldiers were looting, and they were surprised by a group of Ramesses II’s soldiers and slain. Ramesses II gathered up the victorious unit, determined to stand his ground until reinforcements arrived. The Hittite king, in turn, threw his reserves of 1,000 chariots into the fray, but he was unable to score against Ramesses II and his men. Then the banners and totems of the Regiment of Ptah came into sight and both camps knew that the Egyptian reinforcements had arrived. The Hittite cavalry was driven into the city, with terrible losses, and Muwatallis withdrew. Ramesses II did not capture Kadesh, and Muwatallis claimed a Hittite victory and the acquisition of the city of Apa (modern Damascus). Ramesses II claimed victory and executed all of the Egyptians who had not rushed to his aid. This battle would not end the conflicts between Egypt and the Hittites. Almost two decades of confrontations finally led to the Egyptian Hittite Treaty.

Suggested Readings: Road to Kadesh a Historical Interpretation of the Battle Reliefs of King Sety I at Karnak. Chicago: Oriental Inst., 1990; Healy, Mark. The Warrior Pharaoh: Ramesses II and the Battle. London: Osprey, 2000.

Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident


“A Higher Call” by John D. Shaw

The Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler incident occurred on 20 December 1943, when, after a successful bomb run on Bremen, Charles ‘Charlie’ Brown’s B-17 Flying Fortress (named “Ye Olde Pub”) was severely damaged by German fighters. Luftwaffe pilot and ace Franz Stigler had an opportunity to shoot down the crippled bomber, but instead, for humanitarian reasons, decided to allow the crew to fly back to their airfield in England. The two pilots met each other 40 years later after the extensive search by Charlie Brown and the friendship that the two developed lasted until their deaths.


2nd Lt. Charlie Brown (a farm boy from West Virginia) was a B-17F pilot with United States Army Air Forces (USAAF)’s 379th Bomber Group stationed at RAF Kimbolton in England. Franz Stigler (a former airline pilot from Bavaria) was a veteran Luftwaffe fighter pilot attached to Jagdgeschwader 27 and at the time had 22 victories to his name and would be eligible for the coveted Knight’s Cross with one more downed enemy aircraft.

Bremen mission

The mission was Brown’s first and targeted a Focke-Wulf aircraft production facility in Bremen.

Bomb run

Brown’s B-17 began its 10-minute bomb run at 27,300 feet with an outside air temperature of minus 60 °C. Before the bomber released its bomb load, accurate anti-aircraft flak shattered the Plexiglas nose, knocked out the number two engine and further damaged the number four engine which was already in questionable condition and had to be throttled back to prevent overspeeding. The damage slowed the bomber and Brown was unable to remain with his formation and fell back as a straggler – a position from which he would come under sustained enemy attacks.

Attacks by fighters

Brown’s straggling B-17 was now attacked by over a dozen enemy fighters (a mixture of Bf-109s and FW-190s) for over 10 minutes. Further damage was sustained including the number three engine which would produce only half power (meaning the aircraft had at worst 40% of its total rated power available). The bomber’s internal oxygen, hydraulic and electrical systems were also damaged. The bomber’s only remaining defensive armament were the two dorsal turret guns and one of three forward-firing nose guns (from eleven available). Most of the crew were now wounded (the tail gunner had been killed) and Brown was wounded in his right shoulder.

Lacking oxygen, Brown lost consciousness, but came round to find the bomber remarkably flying level at around 1000 ft. He regained the controls and began the long flight home in the shattered bomber.

Franz Stigler

Brown’s damaged bomber was spotted by Germans on the ground, including Franz Stigler, who was refueling and rearming at an airfield. He soon took off in his Messerschmitt Bf-109 and quickly caught up with Brown’s plane. Through the damaged bomber’s air frame Stigler was clearly able to see the injured and incapacitated crew. To the American pilot’s surprise, Stigler did not open fire on the crippled bomber. Remembering the words of one of his commanding officers from the Jagdgeschwader 27, Gustav Rödel, during his time fighting in north Africa – “You are fighter pilots first, last, always. If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” Stigler later commented, “To me, it was just like they were in a parachute. I saw them and I couldn’t shoot them down.”

Twice, Stigler tried to get Brown to land his plane at a German airfield and surrender, or divert to nearby neutral Sweden, where he and his crew would receive medical treatment but be interned and sit out the remainder of the war. Brown refused and flew on. Stigler then flew near Brown’s plane, escorting it until they reached the North Sea and departing with a salute.


Brown managed to fly the 250 miles across the North Sea and land his plane at RAF Seething, home of the 448th Bomb Group and at the after-flight debriefing informed his officers about how a German pilot had let him go. He was told not to repeat this to the rest of the unit so as not to build any positive sentiment about enemy pilots. Brown commented, “Someone decided you can’t be human and be flying in a German cockpit.” Stigler said nothing of the incident to his commanding officers, knowing that a German pilot who spared the enemy while in combat risked execution.

Lt. Brown went on to complete a combat tour.

Post war and meeting of pilots

After the war, Charlie Brown returned home to West Virginia and went to college, returning to the Air Force in 1949 and serving until 1965. Later, as a State Department Foreign Service Officer, he made numerous trips to Laos and Vietnam. But in 1972, he hung up his government service hat and moved to Miami to become an inventor.

Stigler moved to Canada in 1953 and became a successful businessman.

In 1986, the then retired Colonel Charlie Brown was asked to speak at a combat pilot reunion event called “Gathering of the Eagles”. Someone asked him if he had any memorable missions during World War II. Brown thought for a minute and recalled the story of Stigler’s escort and salute. Afterwards Brown decided he should try to find the unknown German pilot.

After four years of searching vainly for U.S. and West German Air Force records that might shed some light on who the other pilot was, Brown hadn’t come up with much. He then wrote a letter to a combat pilot association newsletter. A few months later, Brown received a letter from Stigler who was living in Canada. “I was the one” it said. When they spoke on the phone, Stigler described his plane, the escort and salute confirming everything Brown needed to hear to know he was the German fighter-pilot involved in the incident.

Between 1990 and 2008, Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler became close friends and remained so until their deaths within several months of each other in 2008.


The incident was the subject of Adam Makos’ New York Times best-selling book, A Higher Call: An Incredible True Story of Combat and Chivalry in the War-Torn Skies of World War II, published 19 December 2012.

Stilicho’s Wars with the Visigoths (390-408 C. E.)


Stilicho recalled one of the two British legions to assist with the defense of Italy against Alaric and the Visigoths. The recalled legion, known as the Sixth Victrix, was said by Claudian (in “De Bello Gallico,” 416) to be “that legion which is stretched before the remoter Britons, which curbs the Scot, and gazes on the tattoo-marks on the pale face of the dying Pict.” The barbarians were defeated, this time, at battle of Pollentia.


Honorius, Emperor in the West (395-423)

The Visigoths broke a peace established in 381 by Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius I (346?-395), by allying with Huns to devastate Thrace in 390. This action brought confrontation with the Roman general Flavius Stilicho (359?- 408), a former Vandal who understood barbarian strategies. By 392, the Romans had suppressed Visigothic raiding. With the death of Theodosius and the elevation of Alaric (370?-410) as the Visigoths’ king, raiding resumed in the southern and western Balkans. Greece suffered the destruction of the Temple of Demeter (396); of the northern cities, only Thebes held out. Stilicho, whose troops failed to win in Thessaly, was briefly transferred to Italy. He returned to Greece in 397 and blockaded the Visigoths in Arcadia, but his strategy was undercut because he was again sent to Italy to punish the African Moors’ refusal to ship grain to Rome. Some Visigoths then devastated Epirus until Alaric, placated by bribes, made peace in 397; he was made magister militum of Illyricum (Croatia) and gained Epirus, an unfortunate reward, for he could now harass the Western Roman Empire. With a Gothic leader, Radagaisus (d. 405), Alaric formed a Danubian confederation, including Vandals and Alans. By 401, northern Italy, especially Milan, was under attack. Stilicho’s forces drove the confederation armies westward and then defeated them in a bloody battle at Pollentia (Polenza) in northern Italy in 402, capturing Alaric’s wife and family and forcing Alaric back to Illyricum. Within a year, he was back besieging Verona. Stilicho’s forces could have massacred the Visigoths; however, Stilicho, who desired Rome’s eastern throne, developed a treaty (403) aiming at an invasion of this younger empire. It failed because Radagaisus went instead to Italy, losing to Stilicho at Fiesole in 405. Alaric took over the Goths’ base in Noricum (southern Austria), demanded a huge payment for Gothic service to Rome, and received it in 407. A mutiny among Stilicho’s troops brought an allegation of treason, a trial, and Stilicho’s execution in 408. Freed of effective opposition, Alaric began to threaten Rome itself.

Stilicho, Flavius (d. 408 C. E.)

Magister militum in the West from 394 to 408 and one of the major political figures in the later years of the Roman Empire.

Stilicho was the son of a VANDAL cavalry officer and a Roman lady. Probably through the influence of his father he was chosen in 383 to serve as part of a diplomatic mission to PERSIA. Upon his return (c. 394) he was married to Serena, Emperor THEODOSIUS I’s niece, and given the rank of COMES, or count. From 385 to 392 he was comes domesticorum, accompanying the emperor on his campaign against Magnus Maximus while amassing influence and power in the court. Made MAGISTER MILITUM in THRACE (c. 392), he was a general during the war against Eugenius. After the battle of FRIGIDUS (394), Theodosius declared him magister militum in the West.

Stilicho now possessed virtually unlimited power, increasing his control by centralizing the bureaucracy of the Western provinces, making them answerable to him alone. Thus, when Theodosius named Stilicho as guardian of the young Honorius, he was ready to go beyond the letter of the emperor’s aims, especially after Theodosius died in 395. De facto ruler of the West and master of the Eastern armies, Stilicho pronounced himself guardian of both emperors HONORIUS and ARCADIUS. Marching into Greece he was ready to annihilate ALARIC and the VISIGOTHS but received orders to desist from Praetorian Prefect RUFINUS, whom Stilicho subsequently had murdered.

The removal of Rufinus did nothing to end the hatred of Stilicho in both the Eastern and Western courts. In 397, Arcadius declared him a public enemy, and the magister militum in AFRICA, Gildo, revolted. Neither event could loosen his hold on the Western Empire, for he was CONSUL in 400. The following year Alaric invaded Italy, only to be beaten by Stilicho at the battle of POLLENTIA. Consul again in 405, the general took to the field once more, this time against Radagaisus, routing the barbarian king in 406. Deciding to use Alaric as an ally, he elevated the Visigoth to the rank of magister militum as part of a plan to take ILLYRICUM. His strategy was ruined by the emergence of the usurper CONSTANTIUS III in Gaul. Not only did he have to face a dangerous usurper, but also Alaric suddenly demanded compensation of 4,000 pounds of gold. Stilicho convinced the SENATE to oblige.

Fortune turned against Stilicho even more in 408. Arcadius died, and Stilicho convinced Honorius to allow him to settle affairs at Constantinople. Already weakened by Alaric’s extortion, Stilicho was accused by members of the court of plotting to put his son on the throne. When the troops in Gaul mutinied, murdering their own officers, Stilicho was arrested by Honorius. After hiding briefly in a church, he was executed on August 22, 408.

Many accounts were very hostile to Stilicho, most notably that of the historian EUNAPIUS. He was, nevertheless, an accomplished general who proved skillful in defeating the hordes then threatening the empire and in dealing with them by negotiation and diplomacy. A vehement Christian, he helped destroy PAGANISM both through laws and with the burning of the SIBYLLINE BOOKS.

Visigothic Sack of Rome, (410 C. E.)

In 408, the Visigoth’s demands upon Rome for tribute and Pannonia (Roman province south and west of the Danube) were rejected by the government in Ravenna; Alaric (370?-410), the Visigothic king, blockaded Rome, gained a sizable ransom, and then withdrew to Tuscany to fight Roman armies. When Roman officials at Ravenna refused to meet Alaric’s new demands, the Visigoths seized Rome’s port city of Ostia in 409; Alaric forced the Roman Senate to elect a puppet emperor, who named him commander in chief. Alaric then besieged Ravenna but withdrew when 4,000 relief soldiers arrived from Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Ravenna was the capital of the West). A truce followed; the puppet emperor was deposed, but an attack on Alaric’s camp by the Romans broke the truce (410). Determined to sack Rome and then take the Visigoths to North Africa, Alaric invaded northern Italy from Illyricum (Roman colony along the Adriatic’s east coast) and besieged Rome. The city suffered starvation; the Roman Senate agreed to more tribute for Alaric, but Ravenna overruled its vote. Three weeks later, the city’s Salarian Gate was opened by treachery; Visigoths and Roman slaves then destroyed Rome, sparing only the churches. Many died, while others were held for ransom or enslaved. Loaded with loot, the Visigoths marched south.

1944-45 WWII in Czech State and Slovakia



The Nazi puppet state in Slovakia sent small ground and air units to fight against the Soviet Union. Formerly a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, after World War I Slovakia shared the twists and turns of the history of the Czech state. But during World War II the two provinces were split when a Nazi protectorate was set up in Slovakia under a local priest and fascist leader, Josef Tiso (1887-1947). Slovakia adhered to the Tripartite Pact and Axis alliance on November 23, 1940. In June 1941, it declared war on the Soviet Union. There followed declarations of war against the Western Allies in tandem with the German declarations of December 11, 1941. The Slovak population did not so readily embrace these pro-German policies. At the end of August 1944, the Slovak Uprising broke out.


Some in the fascist Slovak Army tried to play a clever game of rising against the Germans before the arrival of the Red Army, to assert a primary political claim for the postwar period. As with the Warsaw Uprising, the problem was fatal mistiming. On August 29, 1944, Slovak resistance fighters rose against the Germans, declaring “Free Slovakia” while hoping for help from the approaching Red Army. That same day, seven Soviet Fronts were ordered onto the “strict defensive” along the Eastern Front. Toward the end the VVS flew in supplies and some Czech and Slovak fighters to an isolated pocket of continuing resistance in north-central Slovakia. Czech pilots in the VVS flew air cover over the area and a Czech-Slovak brigade was parachuted in. Otherwise, the uprising in Slovakia was left to burn itself out. The last stronghold of the rebels was crushed on October 27. A few survivors made it into the Carpathians. Most were wiped out by the Wehrmacht and punitive Schutzstaffel (SS) and criminal brigades, the latter with hands still bloody from mass murders committed in Warsaw. Slovakia was not liberated by the Red Army until 1945.

Like the Warsaw Rising in Poland, the Slovak rebellion was savagely crushed by the Germans by the end of October: it was as hard for small powers to leave the Axis at the end of the war as it was to resist annexation at its beginning. Slovakia was defended against the assaulting Red Army by German 1st Panzer Army. That was a misnamed force without any tanks which had no chance against the combat power it faced in Soviet 1st and 4th Ukrainian Fronts. Three Soviet armies broke part way into the Carpathians in September-October during what Russian historians call the “East Carpathian operation.” After a two-month pause, a complimentary “West Carpathian operation” was launched in January-February, 1945. It was temporarily blocked by a stiffened defense by 600,000 Axis troops led by General Ferdinand Schörner. Stalin and the Stavka sacked the original Soviet commander, replacing him with General Andrei Yeremenko. He also had trouble with Slovakia’s terrain: mountain fighting was new to much of the Red Army, while in Slovakia the Soviets faced German and Waffen-SS bitterenders. Yeremenko was reinforced and attacked again from March to May, 1945. His “Bratislava-Brno operation “went around the German flanks and up the Danube valley. Bratislava fell on April 4. Brno was taken on the 28th. Tiso was found hiding in a cellar. He was hanged as a traitor in 1947. Prime Minister Winston Churchill urged the new American President, Harry Truman, to send American forces to take Prague. American 3rd and 7th Armies had advanced through Bavaria against light resistance and reached the border of western Bohemia on April 25, 1945. By Allied agreement, liberation of Prague was left to the Red Army. Citizens of the city had other ideas and rose on May 4, though perhaps more in celebration of expected liberation than in violent determination to liberate themselves. The rising cut off remnants of Army Group Center from escape to the west or back to Germany, so German troops tried to retake Prague. The Red Army arrived five days later, one day after a formal ceasefire and surrender agreement at Reims went into effect across Germany. The Soviets took down the last German resistance after a blistering artillery barrage. There was heavy fighting in other parts of Czechoslovakia by bitterenders in Army Group Center, especially among Waffen-SS units. More famously, there was some fighting with a demoralized division of the Russian Liberation Army that lasted until May 11. All that made Czechoslovakia the first territory invaded by German troops and the last from which they were violently expelled.

When the fighting ended, almost 720,000 Germans were marched off to Soviet POW camps. Most remained in harsh captivity for years, working as forced laborers in the Soviet Union. The Red Army put its losses for nine months of the Czech and Slovak campaigns at 140,000 men. When the Soviets withdrew their armed forces from the country, Benes returned as president of a restored Czechoslovakia. The dawn of liberation did not last long: in 1946 Benes appointed a Communist prime minister in yet another foolhardy placatory gesture toward Moscow. In February 1948, a Communist coup forced Benes to resign. Klement Gottwald, a harsh Stalinist, thereafter embedded Czechoslovakia deep inside an emerging postwar “Soviet bloc.”